Le Corbusier, Le Petite Maison de Weekend (Villa Henfel), (1935)
In his 1929 design for the prototype Maisons Locheur, Le Corbusier outlined a “second machine age” by combining vernacular and contemporary technologies in the search for both relevant beauty and utility. This assimilation of primitive and sophisticated is again profoundly apparent Petite Maison’s vaults and their sitting. The vaults reference such sources as Gaudi’s suspended forms, Perisian antiquities from the books of Dieulafoy, and Le Corbusier’s own Maisons Monol prototype (1919), which consists of attached units (en serie).
The client , M. Felix, the bachelor director of the Bank Societe Henfel, commissioned the house under dubious circumstances as a company retreat for his private use. Discretion and relaxation combined as the primary requirements. Le Corbusier’s other explorations of “peasant means” for leisure in Villa le Sextant and Villa de Mandrot were rural commissions in which the combination of local materials and prefabricated imports had an economic and regional logic. Here, as a weekend retreat within the environs of Paris, the vaulted house seems an ideological critique of it’s immediate cultural context. It’s associations with peasant barns and industrial warehouses suggest an alternative to the bourgeois idea of dwelling as represented in the neighboring houses. The 2.6 meter high vaults of shuttered, poured concrete are covered with sod and placed against a soil embankment. From the adjacent, higher ground, they form a cave like shelter, appropriate to a modern day, ornamental hermit. Early photos of the house show a finely finished interior of plywood and Nevada glass blocks filled with light and open to the garden. From the inside, the house had an immediate relation with an intensely private landscape that evoked “ur-shelter”, a primal dwelling in an Eden-like setting.